Green.org sat down with James Byrne, the CEO of BeyondWords, a company that specializes in sustainability reporting and corporate communications.
James, thank you for being here. Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
Hi, I am James Byrne and I am a sustainability consultant and CEO at BeyondWords-ESG, the company I founded in 2022. I began the company because I wanted to help businesses avoid greenwashing in their ESG reporting, and because I love helping businesses create robust sustainability strategies based on rigorous ESG materiality assessment. I love then bringing this to life in a readable and beautifully designed report! In terms of my background, well back in 2005 I began my degree in Architecture at the University of Liverpool. I have always loved design: As a child I used to rearrange the furniture in my parents living room, because of course I knew the best layout for the sofa and chairs!
During my architecture degree I became obsessed with sustainable design, and won a Prize for my design for a sustainable school. This led to a career in renewable energy consulting, where I could use my design skills to come up with interesting roof installations. After completing an MSc in sustainability consultancy at the University of Leeds, it became clear that I could use my creativity in a full on sustainability consultant role. What I love about my career is the ability to look at every aspect of a business, and then help my clients improve their impact, whether that be committing to procuring renewable energy to power their offices, building a new green office, or committing to social impact projects. I love going from creating an over arching strategy, to then getting into the nitty gritty of creating targets and helping organizations get accountable when it comes to their climate impact and social impact. I get a kick, when all the hard work is done and the ESG report is complete, and the client gets to tell their sustainability story to the world.
What is a fun fact about you?
I tried to set up a T shirt printing business in my early 20s, unfortunately most of the T shirts are still in my parents attic!
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Sustainability and Climate Change are seen as a threat to business, but I see them as a huge opportunity for businesses and society to accelerate innovation. The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said that the best architecture comes from constraints, as it sparks ingenuity and creativity. I see Climate Change the same way, constraints need not make life boring, they actually make it more interesting, and the best businesses in the world know this. As a consultant, I love working with people who are passionate about sustainability, but I also love helping show those on the fence, the possibilities and opportunities. As a kid I went through a brief phase of wanting to become a priest, so I suppose the evangelist spirit is just a part of who I am!
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
I see a consolidation coming very fast for the big consultancies and ESG platforms that will be good news for everyone. However, from working on sustainability reporting and strategy projects for companies large and small, it’s important we don’t lose the personal touch when it comes to working with businesses on sustainability and reporting. Automation of ESG materiality for instance, may get you so far, but you still need to intuitively understand what makes your stakeholders tick, and that’s why bespoke sustainability consultancies like my own will still be thriving, because no ESG platform can replace good old fashioned human to human communication. I am certainly not against automation, but we must be wise with it.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
Switch to a clean energy provider is the obvious answer, but on a personal level, grow some herbs and veg in your garden, and do it organically. Lets take the pressure of the global agri-business that from the 60s onwards has prioritized productivity over ecological stability. Read Rachel Carson’s seminal book ‘Silent Spring’ to get motivated. Or if that’s too much like hard work, buy or even better hire an EV instead of a gas guzzler. Despite bogus claims about battery recycling being bad for the environment, EVs are more sustainable by far compared to the combustion engine.